Phuket Opinion: Out of the house, into a brave new world

The Chief of the Phuket Women’s Development Fund is 52-year-old Natthaporn Phanitpichatewon. A Chiang Mai native, she has lived in Phuket for 30 years. She is a realtor and board member of the Phuket Red Cross and the Juvenile Observation and Protection Center.

Here she talks about why women shouldn’t stay home and how she helps women start their own businesses.

PHUKET: My passion is to help women develop themselves, especially housewives. Traditionally, Thai women – especially rural women – believe that after they are married they should stay at home and take care of their husband and children.

Nowadays, though, attitudes have changed, and more and more women are working, especially in Bangkok. Phuket is still a little behind Bangkok in this regard, with more women staying at home.

Staying home is not the best option for women because it leads some of them to play cards, gamble, indulge in illegal lotteries and, in general, not use their time productively.

The goal of my organization is to encourage women to develop themselves, to let them know what work opportunities are available to them outside the home, and to provide them with low-interest loans and training to start their own businesses.

We’ve been in operation for only a year, but we’ve already loaned out 20 million baht and helped women start about a 100 businesses.

We were given 70 million baht by the Thai government for this program. We use 80 per cent, or 55 million baht, for loans and 20 per cent for training and administrative costs. Whatever we spend on training will be replaced by the government every year.

We do not loan money to individual women, but to groups of five or more. The women must form a business, and we give the loan to the business. We can loan up to 200,000 baht for a two-year period. The interest is low, 0.25 per cent per month, or 3 per cent a year.

We loan to groups for two reasons: it makes it easier for the women to run a business if they have partners, and it makes it easier for them to pay back the loans. They don’t have to assume the whole financial burden alone.

The loans are available to women who have lived in Phuket for at least six months. They need to be able to prove this by showing their tabian baan and getting a statement from the Kamnam, the village or subdistrict chief, or Phu Yai Baan where they live. The group taking out the loan should all live in the same area.

When they fill out the loan application, they need to specify exactly what they need the money for – each item they will spend the money on. After the business opens, we will inspect to make sure the money was spent as they said it would be.

Women we’ve made loans to have started a range of businesses, including laundries, bakeries, mushroom nurseries, fish ponds, vegetable farms, hair salons and batik painting shops.

We guide women when they are selecting a business to open. For example, if they want to open a laundry, I check to make sure that there isn’t already one in their subdistrict. While demand for laundries in Phuket is high, we believe that each subdistrict can only support one laundry.

Once a business is selected, we can provide training in every aspect of running it.

With laundries, for example, we teach the women how to register the shop, how to manage their money and how to set prices. We teach them marketing so they know how to find customers. We also bring in experts to tell them what they need to know to produce clothes that look professionally cleaned, including how to iron them and how to fold them.

Probably the best business to open right now is a vegetable farm or fish pond. Demand is high and the products can also be sent out of province to be sold.

Our team checks up on the businesses randomly each month. So far, everything is going well. All of the businesses are still in operation, and all of the businesses have kept up with their monthly loan repayments.

— Saran Mitrarat

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